While the owner of the former naval airfield, NASA Ames Research Center, is largely mum on the issue, a staff member for Eshoo confirmed that the congresswoman had heard from NASA about the possibility that the agency would relinquish control of the airfield. The staff member said that she opposes such a move, which some fear would increase air traffic at Moffett Field -- an issue that's been controversial in the past. Eshoo was not available to comment on the issue further.
In an e-mail, NASA Ames spokesperson Michael Mewhinney said NASA Ames and much of the federal government is looking at ways to downsize.
"The President is ordering the reduction of the federal footprint (property holdings, including Moffett Field) with metrics (measurements to chart progress) until the year 2055," Mewhinney wrote. "In concert with the anticipated executive order, NASA is studying all underutilized assets for potential reductions."
Offloading the airfield could save cash-strapped Ames millions of dollars. In recent years, the agency has asked the community to tolerate special and sometimes controversial airfield-use deals in order for Ames to raise the $7 million a year it costs to operate and maintain the airfield. One such money-maker allows Google's founders to fly private jets in and out, while other non-government planes are not allowed. The airfield is also used by local police, the U.S. Coast Guard, the Air National Guard, Lockheed and NASA, and several other agencies.
Mewhinney added that it was "premature" to say whether or not the airfield would be on the list of "underutilized assets" at Ames. But that didn't stop members of Moffett's Restoration Advisory Board from discussing the issue after last week's meeting. One member said Ames could "surplus" the property, which means a non-federal agency could take control of the airfield, such as Santa Clara County's Airports Department. Another said Ames could simply "excess" it, which means another federal agency, such as the Air National Guard, could take control.
County airports director Carl Honaker said there is no longer any real basis for fears that the county would use Moffett for air cargo flights, which the Mountain View City Council strongly opposed in the late 1990s. With manufacturing largely gone from Silicon Valley, the case for air cargo is dead, he said. Honaker was the last executive officer at Moffett in 1994 when it ceased to be a Naval Air Station.
While the county airports department is not interested in operating Moffett, Honaker said that a possible new use for Moffett's airfield is increased use by private jets owned by Silicon Valley's companies used to transport companies to satellite campuses. For example, there are several planes now owned by Google (separate from the planes owned by Google executives that now fly out of Moffett) that transport Google employees around the globe.
A likely obstacle to the airfield's financial solvency, RAB members said, is the limit of 25,000 flights a year imposed by the environmental impact study for the planned NASA Ames Research Park. In comparison, Palo Alto's county airport has seen as many as 250,000 flights a year during its busiest years, Honaker said.